Total Distance: 5.6 miles (9km)
Elevation Gain: 100 feet (30.5m)
I seemed to be rewarded for traveling the path less traveled on a cloudy and rainy day in Yosemite National Park. Instead of ascending to any of Yosemite’s vistas like Half Dome or Yosemite Falls, I stayed low and found one of the park’s more hidden gems, Mirror Lake Trail.
Mirror Lake Trail, while still well known, is much less crowded than many of the other trails found around Yosemite Park. It is an easy 5.6 miles loop that really shows off the diversity of the park. As you are walking to the trailhead you will be immediately greeted by a rushing stream of clear water flowing over rocks creating a refreshing ambience. As you continue along the stream, it suddenly opens up revealing the namesake Mirror Lake. Although in reality, it is not much of a lake, more of a natural reservoir in the river that flows through the park. As you walk you can read some of the history of this area of Yosemite on plaques, which being a history nerd is amazing to be able to see the pictures of what was. In the summer it is a more popular swimming area because of the glassy emerald water that pools up as the snow melts. The lake itself is surrounded by the giant granite monoliths that make the park popular.
The trails works itself back into the valley, and away from the crowds, and this is where the real treat comes. The trail winds its way away from the river and into a dense Pine Forest where with every slight breeze a strong smell of pine wisps through the air. The trail here is flat, well marked, and the trees around make it seem like you’re trekking through a fantasy novel. After a mile and a half or so, the pines start to thin out and begin to be replaced with long green reeds as you near the river once again. In the spring, this part of the trail was muddy and wet with many fallen trees in the middle of the path. At one point it seemed like a veritable swamp with a stretch of mud so long I had to scramble off to the side to find my way around.
This was by far my favorite part of the trail. I love having to boulder around obstacles and this provided a fun experience in a biome that I had no idea existed in the park. It wasn’t a long part or a hard part, but having to jump across parts of the stream or duck under fallen trees really adds to the experience of hiking through what is supposed to be untempered wilderness.
At one point, as you are leaving this muddy section the trees disappear on one side, and in their place looms the magnificent Half Dome. The closest you can get to the iconic rock without climbing it itself. The trail becomes littered with giant chunks of white granite that has fallen from the mountain. It was such an incredible sight that I decided to stop and have lunch at the
base of one of the most famous natural monuments in the world. On this particular day because of the rain the clouds hung low and swirled around the mountains, making it look even more majestic. I found one of the large chunks of granite in the middle of the path and climbed up to eat my lunch. On the left rose Half Dome into the sky with what looked like a quarry of rocks down around its base that extended to the trail, and on the right there was a thin waterfall cascading down from the middle of a granite ridge, with pine trees and green reeds that came up to the rocks in a dichotomy of color and nature.
I finished lunch and hopped down from my boulder to finish the last mile and a half of the loop. I descended back into the Pine Forest, at one point crossing a bridge over a wide expanse of the flowing river. The trails finds its way back to Mirror Lake, this time on the opposite side, and continues downward to the rushing stream you originally start off at still on the opposite side, letting you experience new views as you finish the trail. Instead of walking up from the paved roads you come down through mossy trees and rocks that really put a tranquil end to an amazing journey.